Mourning Nehru in Pakistan

On the day Jawaharlal Nehru passed into history 45 years and two days ago, I was in Pakistan along with some others of the Indian hack pack. It was no happenstance but practically willed by Nehru himself. For, one of his last official acts was to release his old, if estranged, friend, the towering Kashmiri leader, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, from prolonged and unjust imprisonment; withdraw the meandering "Kashmir Conspiracy" case against him; invite the Sheikh to be his house guest at Teen Murti; and encourage him to go to Pakistan to explore with then Pakistani president, Ayub Khan, the possibility of a settlement on Kashmir.

In his conversations with the prime minister, Abdullah broached the idea of a "Confederation of India, Pakistan and Kashmir". Nehru did not like it and called in Syed Mir Qasim, later chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. "Ji, kaan kaat dijiye", advised Qasim. "What nonsense is this? Whose ears do I cut off?" asked Nehru testily. Qasim explained: "Sir, I am saying that make it federation rather than confederation". (Source: Mir Qasim's autobiography in Urdu.)

On the morning of May 22, Nehru addressed what was to be the last of his famous press conferences. Someone asked him whether he should not nominate his successor during his lifetime. "My lifetime is not ending that soon" was Nehru's reply. His audience greeted it with loud and prolonged cheers that I joined heartily. I then left for Lahore and was in Rawalpindi then Pakistan's capital because Islamabad was under construction before sunset. Sheikh Abdullah arrived the next evening to receive a hero's welcome.

During his talks with Ayub, the Sheikh vaguely mentioned both the ideas of a confederation and a federation. The field-marshal rejected them out of hand, as he has recorded in his memoirs Friends, Not Masters. However, on one point Ayub and Abdullah were agreed: that the Kashmir issue must be resolved, and that Nehru and Ayub were the two leaders who could do this and "sell" the "compromise solution" to their respective countries. On the evening of May 26, the Sheikh announced that a meeting between Nehru and Ayub would take place in New Delhi in June, and that he (Abdullah) would "not be far from the conference table".

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